Word Count: 1050
Adam Cartwright leaned against the granite outcropping and gazed out over the lake. Sighing, he tossed a pebble into the water and watched the circles form, expand, and disappear. His arms crossed on his chest, and his right hand came up slowly to tug his left ear. His father understood, not happily, but he understood. Ben Cartwright was no hypocrite. He had left his home to sail the sea and departed Boston to follow a dream, so Pa understood and had even given his reluctant blessing. Pa would hug him goodbye and roast the fatted calf whenever he returned, no matter how long that might take. Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose. Joe, well, Adam knew that Joe would never understand — comprehend perhaps and hopefully in time forgive — but his baby brother would never truly understand. Adam sighed again, although he had accepted that fact. After all, there were things about his baby brother’s actions that he would never fully understand.
Adam began to slowly chew his lower lip. Then there was Hoss, his little brother. Adam’s lips curled up as they did every time he applied the word little to Hoss. Still, Eric Gunnar Cartwright had been born his little brother, and little brother he would always be. Adam had tilted back his head to look into Hoss’ eyes and told him so more than once. Adam rubbed a spot directly between his eyes. Hoss had had almost no comment since Adam had informed his family of his decision to go, and for the first time in his life, Adam did not know what his first brother felt. There seemed to be a fog between them. Well, fog could be blown away! Adam’s hand slapped against the granite. He strode over to his horse, mounted Sport and rode off.
Adam found Hoss where he had expected to find him. Reining Sport to a halt, he lifted his leg over the saddle horn, slid to the ground, and walked slowly toward his brother. Hoss stood leaning against a huge boulder, as still as if he had grown to be a part of it. Adam sat down beside Hoss and joined him in staring out at one of the prettiest meadows on the entire Ponderosa.
“It don’t get no easier.” Neither man turned to face the other; both stared ahead as they talked, but Hoss did ease himself to the ground settling beside his brother.
“Yeah, even with practice, it don’t get no easier.” Hoss drew in a deep breath. “I want you to be happy, Adam. Sometimes it seems you’ve been the least happy of us all.” There was melancholy in Hoss’ tone.
“It’s not that I’m unhappy.” His answer held more sharpness than Adam had intended.
“I guess it’s just hard for me and Joe to think there might be something more beautiful than what we got here.” Hoss unconsciously plucked blade after blade of long grass from the ground beside him.
“There is more beauty here than any man could ever desire. Even as a boy I knew that, Hoss, a little piece of Heaven.” Adam plucked a weed from the ground and twisted it in his fingers.
“More exciting then.” A touch of weariness had joined the melancholy.
“Our lives haven’t exactly been boring, little brother.”
Hoss knew that a sardonic grin had appeared on Adam’s lips without looking. “Naw, life’s not boring.” A dry chuckle followed that observation. “Some days, maybe, but not life.” Hoss sighed. “If you need to look for something better for yourself, well, then you need to go.” The words were heavy with resignation. “I’d never want any but the best for you, big brother.”
Adam did turn his head at that remark. Staring at Hoss’ profile, he answered, “You don’t really think. . . I never. . . you can’t believe I think here isn’t good enough!”
Hoss heard the indignation and knew it was righteous. He turned away from Adam. “Good enough, just not the best.”
The statement was bitter, far too bitter to have come from his little brother’s lips. Adam’s hands gripped his brother’s arms, and he managed to force Hoss to face him. “You know me better than that.” His eyes were dark and blazing.
Hoss dropped his chin to his chest as he had all his life when faced with that gaze. “Just being selfish and wanting to blame it on you, I guess,” he muttered and shrugged his shoulders in silent acceptance.
Adam’s grasp loosened. “You’re the least selfish person I know, Hoss Cartwright. I’ve always been more selfish than you. I’m being selfish now; I know that.” His underlying guilt was present in his voice.
“Iffen we could just talk to you now and then, you know… if voices could travel. Then we could know for sure how you was always. It would be easier that way.” This time Hoss’ words had the tinge of desperation.
“Easier for me too.”
Hoss heard everything Adam had hidden when he made the self-assured announcement of his impending journey. Adam knew even more about how death could pounce than Hoss, and Hoss knew that. He reached out and placed his arm across Adam’s shoulders; its weight solid, not heavy, against his brother’s back. “I won’t ask you to promise,” Hoss said softly, his hand patting slowly against Adam’s upper arm. Hoss had never asked for promises he knew someone might not be able to keep. His lips twisted into a rueful smile. “Little Joe, now, he might demand a few, but . . . well, that’s his way, so. . .well, you know that’s his way; he needs to know you’re coming back; he needs. . .well, you know.”
“And you know I will if I possibly can.” Even when Hoss had been little more than a baby, Adam had seldom sugar-coated reality for his little brother.
“I know.” The fullness of all he knew was in those two small words.
They watched the sun set as they sat alone together for what might be the very last time and surely was the last before their separation. Then they rode home. Four days later, when Adam hugged his little brother good-bye, there was no fog between them.